Keywords: fasting, natural remedy, health, anti-aging, mental health, anxiety, ketogenic diet, spiritual growth
Yesterday I fasted and today is day two. I started on Monday night at around 9 pm and have only had tea and sparkling water. I was feeling a bit dizzy this morning so I had some salt and nutritional yeast. I broke my fast this evening with vegetable fish-broth soup and beef brisket (with no ill effects!) at Deer Garden Signatures in Vancouver on Fraser Street. Yum!
The idea of going without food for at least 24 hours, and still not yet knowing when I’ll eat again, might seem crazy to some people. Most of the times I’ve told people that I am fasting, I hear a version of one of the following:
“That’s not good for you! Starving yourself is unhealthy.”
“You’ll make yourself sick.”
“You’ll become anorexic.”
Well, now, none of those are true about fasting. First of all, consider that every major world religion and culture has some mention of fasting for health.
Biblical religions prescribe fasting for renewing faith and health. Jews Muslims, and Christians have special fasting days.
Doctors in ancient Greece fasted patients who suffered from things like epilepsy and diabetes. Fasting was prescribed for a variety of human illnesses associated with over-consumption of food and drink.
Ancient Eastern philosophies & religions promoted fasting as a way to gain mental clarity and transcend the animal body. Yoga practices promote abstaining from food during certain times to heal the body. Buddhism stresses the importance of taking time to fast and meditate.
So, should we be afraid of abstaining from food, in light of human history and universal endorsement of this practice? At the very least, we can see that it has not prevented our survival! What’s some of the evidence in favor of fasting?
In a world that is full of food and temptation, there are very few people who manage to avoid diseases linked to over-consumption and obesity such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, auto-immune arthritis, obesity itself. Regular fasting can bring the weight down which reduces blood pressure and re-sensitive the body to insulin. Short fasts (1-5 days) lead to weight-loss without exercise and actually increase HGH – a hormone that helps preserve muscle mass.
- Prevent Cancer Growth
It’s well documented that almost all cancer cells have a glucose dependent metabolism. That means they need blood glucose to survive and lots of it to multiply. Lucky for us, we can survive burning “ketone bodies” for energy, produced by the liver when we do not have enough carbohydrates. What’s the difference between a chimpanzee and us? One big difference is that our brains and bodies are able to fast but still function – the chimp will die after several days without food, but as long as you’ve got body fat to burn you’ll keep creating ketones to feed your brain. Evolution, baby! What this means for cancer and humans is that we exploit fasting to starve the cancer while not harming ourselves.
- Anti-aging & Autophagy
How do you get mice to live twice as long? Cut their calories in half, as researchers have repeated in recent scientific studies. It seems paradoxical that less food means longer life. What’s happening here are two mechanisms. The first is a slowed metabolism as a result of the presence of less food. Cells have a limited number of times they can divide so when we overfeed we cause the division process to speed up. The second mechanism is a process called autophagy, which roughly means “self-eating”. When our bodies run out of glucose to burn, they turn to leftover waste that is stored in cells – deteriorated DNA, cancerous cells, viruses. Essentially, fasting turns on a process of eating biological garbage stored in our bodies. The human body has a mechanism to recognize and eat cancer and damaged cells; by that mechanism the cells that do divide are the healthy ones that your body protects during a fasting state. Want to live longer and healthier? Consider eating less and fasting!
- Mental Clarity
Fasting and carbohydrate restriction force the liver to create ketone bodies and force the body to burn fat for fuel. In some individuals, carbohydrates can cause erratic brain activity, which is why severe epileptics were treated with fasting in ancient Greece and why physicians have more recently since the 1920’s treated epilepsy with a ketogenic diet. Many people report that after passing 36-48 hours of fasting (headaches and nausea are common during that period), they actually begin to feel greater concentration and clear-headed thinking. Ketones have a calming effect on the brain – if you think of it, fasting tells the brain that there is scarcity and that you need to stay calm to preserve energy for survival.
- Spiritual Awakening
Regardless of the path you follow, fasting invites us to transcend our bodies. During fasting we can put our will power back in charge and pay attention to our present experience. Hunger is an uncomfortable physical experience that we immediately answer with a promise of food. But what happens to us mentally when we resolve to abstain for a certain period? We strengthen the will “muscle” by being present with delayed gratification. Moreover, we “wake up” to the physical body as a source of curious sensations to explore, rather than dwell on and allow to control us. This skill of exploring physical sensations without acting on them can develop a higher pain tolerance and tolerance for making difficult but good-for-us life choices. Fasting strengthens the mind over matter. We can transcend the physical.
As you can see, there are many benefits to fasting even if you are not unhealthy or overweight. I’ll be following up this post with more on fasting. There are foodie-blog people, and then there are fasting-blog people. I hope this post caused you to rethink societal pressure to over-consume and reconsider an ancient natural prescription for a healthy life.
*As a disclaimer, this blog post is for entertainment purposes and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or as substitution for advice of a physician. I’ve given as accurate information as possible but before fasting please consider your body and do your own research! Be good to yourself.